In a moment of supreme irony, the South by Southwest Festival has apparently cancelled panels intended to talk about online harassment due to online harassment. In doing so, the organizers made a public statement in which they stated this:
“However, preserving the sanctity of the big tent at SXSW Interactive necessitates that we keep the dialogue civil and respectful. If people can not agree, disagree and embrace new ways of thinking in a safe and secure place that is free of online and offline harassment, then this marketplace of ideas is inevitably compromised.”
I don’t know what to make of this statement. There’s no doubt that the organizers have a responsibility for the safety of all festival attendees and in a society where shootings break out in even the most unlikely places, a certain amount of caution is warranted. But at what point does caution become victim blaming and validation for the perpetrators of such threats?
This also got me thinking about the divisions within the semi-organized secular/atheist community.
Could we, in the atheist community, schedule and hold an honest yet respectful panel to discuss the very real divisions in our community? Could we have real discussions about feminism and sexism and diversity issues in the secular community and beyond without calls for violence?
Many of us are also massive consumers of sci-fi and fantasy books or are gamers. Could we look outside our community, invite some of the big names associated with the controversies in those entertainments, and have honest yet respectful discussions about things like #gamergate and #sadpuppies without inviting disaster or threats of disaster?
If Twitter, Reddit, and other forums are anything to go by, I don’t think we could. However, I realize there may be a sizeable section of our community, perhaps even a majority section, who aren’t online so much and who may even be unaware of the controversies and divisions. Are these people a factor to consider or not? Would discussion of our issues bring them forward or drive them away?
There is no doubt, at least for now, the situation at South By Southwest has empowered the harassers. For all our sakes, I really hope the organizers reverse course.
(Note: I read rumors that perhaps one or both of these panels might be reinstated, but they were not at the time of this writing.)